Wanderings & observations – urban & rural.

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In Stillness and in Motion

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In stillness

and in motion,

the wet and the dry intermingle,

reflect each other, are

separate

and

merge.

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Photographs from Youngs Creek Falls in Snohomish County, Washington.

A Flower Triggers a Memory

On Saturday I walked through Mt Rainier’s colorful alpine meadows and photographed the views and wildflowers. It was a gloriously clear September day on the mountain.  Flowers long gone to seed near my home are in peak bloom now at 6000′, and species that would never show their faces at lower elevations were in evidence, too.

One little beauty revealed itself better after I got home and looked closely at the photo.  It’s called Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia fimbrata) though it’s not a grass and does not grow on Mt. Parnassus!  A fine, squiggly fringe protrudes between the five delicate white petals, and the five stamens are split into glistening hooks. I probably had seen it before but I didn’t remember it’s name. When I looked it up and saw that it was called Grass of Parnassus, there was my mother’s voice, saying that name in my ear. I was instantly transported back to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina.

My mother especially loved the little wildflowers that grow close to the ground – the ones that demand a closer look. We would go for drives and hikes up in the Blue Ridge Mountains when I visited and she would point them all out – “Oh, that’s a Stiff Gentian – Nodding Lady Tresses – Grass of Parnassus.”  Under the trees around her home she planted the native wildflowers that suited her location, delighting in their return each spring.

In October 1998 she returned from a trip to another mountain range, the Italian Alps, feeling slightly ill. She made an appointment to see her doctor and a round of referrals began, which ended with the shocking news that she had pancreatic cancer.  A vital, healthy 75-year-old, she was never sick and rarely even caught a cold. In those days a pancreatic cancer diagnosis meant 6 months to live. Maybe.

She stubbornly refused to schedule any treatment until after Thanksgiving and Christmas had been celebrated according to family traditions. After the holidays her friend Martha drove my mother to Duke University Hospital, where she had exploratory surgery. I flew down from New York and waited nervously that day in the hospital, but it was a short wait – the cancer was inoperable.  A month or so later my mother began the grueling chemo and radiation regimen doctors prescribed as the next best thing to surgery. Every few months I came down to help out.

Late summer brought a brief reprieve in the disease course, allowing her to attend the local outdoor classical music festival she so loved.  And one day we  drove back up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. She didn’t have enough energy for a hike, but we explored the rocks near the road, where she showed me the Grass of Parnassus.

 

It turns out that several flowers go by that name. The pretty little flower I photographed on Mount Rainier and the one my mother loved are very similar.  Both flowers reward us when we take a close look – the western version with it’s fancy fringing and the eastern flower with its subtle tracery of veins. Here’s the flower my mother showed me that day (photo by Craig Fraiser of Arkansas):

Parnassia asarifolia

My mother managed to celebrate one more Thanksgiving with her family. As Christmas approached she must have vowed to make it that far, no matter what.

At dawn on Christmas day she took her last breath in her own bed, the humble little wildflowers at rest underground in the woods around her home, waiting for spring.

 

On the Windowsill

OLD Buddha

in your flaming robes,

sit.

Sit until the color disappears,

and a shadow

remains.

 

 

 

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SIGNS and INSTRUCTIONS

 

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SIGNS and INSTRUCTIONS

A RR Crossing sign…

the yellow rectangle in the sidewalk…

in New York City, a tree stump might be dangerous…

in Washington state, tree cutting is serious business…

a ferry’s emergency evacuation slide…

DO NOT ENTER THE WATER…and other ideas….

a weathered sign…

the Un-sign…

chalked instructions on the street.

 

Thinking About Signs:

From Buddhism and Postmodernity, by Jin Y. Park:

Language itself is…”an arbitrary sign system, and the “signifier cannot claim anything about the nature of the signified. Language functions on a tentative agreement between the signifier and the signified. That this agreement is tentative, however is frequently forgotten: in the naming process the signifier is identified with the essence of the signified, and this essence is further reified, paving the way to create a fixed Truth, which in turn assumes a central role in one’s understanding of the world and of being.”

 

Charles Sanders Pierce’s theory of signs, from the Stanford University online encyclopaedia of philosophy:

Basic Sign Structure

I define a sign as anything which is so determined by something else, called its Object, and so determines an effect upon a person, which effect I call its interpretant, that the later is thereby mediately determined by the former. (EP2, 478)

What we see here is Peirce’s basic claim that signs consist of three inter-related parts: a sign, an object, and an interpretant. For the sake of simplicity, we can think of the sign as the signifier, for example, a written word, an utterance, smoke as a sign for fire etc. The object, on the other hand, is best thought of as whatever is signified, for example, the object to which the written or uttered word attaches, or the fire signified by the smoke. The interpretant, the most innovative and distinctive feature of Peirce’s account, is best thought of as the understanding that we have of the sign/object relation. The importance of the interpretant for Peirce is that signification is not a simple dyadic relationship between sign and object: a sign signifies only in being interpreted. This makes the interpretant central to the content of the sign, in that, the meaning of a sign is manifest in the interpretation that it generates in sign users. Things are, however, slightly more complex than this and we shall look at these three elements in more detail.

 

 

 

Cascade Blueberries

Less than an hour from Seattle, a mountain pass is crisscrossed by two thoroughfares – busy interstate highway 90 and the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,600 mile long hiking trail originating in Mexico and ending in Canada. The pass is also home to a small ski area; the cluster of stores and restaurants around it must be a welcome sight to footsore through-trekkers on the PCT.  For those of us who don’t have time for long hikes, a section of the PCT is easily accessed from a parking lot at the pass.  August is a good time to hike the trail – the nearby ski slopes, covered in snow all winter, are a swelling symphony of wildflowers and berry bushes.

Last weekend we drove up to Snoqualmie Pass, parked the car, and hiked to Lodge Lake, a small, clear lake in the forest on a short spur off the PCT. On the way back we picked blueberries and huckleberries, and this morning I made buttermilk pancakes with a LOT of berries in them. With pure Canadian Grade B maple syrup (Grade B has a stronger maple taste) it was a very satisfying breakfast.

Setting off through alpine meadows…

A highway sign in the meadow looked incongruous – is it a joke? I don’t know. I think it shows the winter path between two ski slopes.  The pink pods in the foreground are on Fireweed (Epilobium augustifolium) gone to seed:

In the distance we noticed a couple picking berries near the ski lift.

Brilliant scarlet Indian Paintbrush (Catilleja) flowers peppered the meadow and Red Elderberries (Sambucus racemosa) provided more spots of red among the greens and golds.

 

Pretty Pearly Everlasting (Analphis) swayed in the breeze.  I gave the photo below a dreamy look (using Lightroom) to evoke how enchanting it felt to me in the meadows, surrounded by wildflowers.

Just as the berries themselves were differently colored, the leaves of the blueberry and huckleberry bushes were changing, presenting a kaleidoscope of colors.

 

A few Foxglove (Digitalis) plants provided a surprising burst of pink among the bushes. They typically bloom earlier. A paler flower had spider silk stretched from its blossoms.

 

Leaving the meadow behind, we entered the forest, where one of my favorites, the dainty Deer Fern (Blechnum splicata) grows among moss-covered logs. The upright fronds with their curled under leaflets carry the spores, while the non-spore bearing fronds lie prostrate on the ground.

 

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After many twists and turns and ups and downs on the trail we arrived at the lake. Despite passing a fair number of other hikers, only two people were there, fishing from a log along the shoreline.

I sat down on a log, took my shoes and socks off, and dangled my sore feet in the clear, cool water. Dragon flies buzzed around me, too fast to photograph, and swallows swooped over the lake. In the log’s shadow, water striders took refuge from the bright sun.

While we ate peanut butter sandwiches we were mesmerized by the warm sun on our skin, the sparkling green reflections on the calm water, and the buzz of darners and dragonflies.  It was pure peacefulness. I put my shoes back on and clambered along the log-strewn shoreline to a huge old log that was so wide I could lay down on it. Which I did. Peering under the surface of the water, I saw little brown newts with bright orange undersides scattered among the submerged logs.

Back on the trail, a young Deer Fern growing on a mossy rock caught my eye, but my legs were a bit sore, so for the rest of the way I was a single-minded walker. I was thinking about those berries in the meadows.

There is was – the forest opening out to the meadow, the mountains beyond – and the promise of ripe berries to pick, and eat, and pick, and eat…

I was glad I had a big bag.

 

I stooped and gathered and got too much sun, but I didn’t care. Finally though, my water was gone and I knew it was time to take that last little piece of trail back to the car.

Clouds scudded across the peaks as we got to the parking lot, now full of activity. It had been a very pleasant day – meadows dotted with wildflowers, a deep forest with grand old trees, a picturesque lake to sit by, and abundant wild berries to taste and gather.

The prize at the end? For me, it was going across the street to an ice cream/espresso stand and ordering two shots of espresso poured over two scoops of vanilla ice cream. I slurped happily all the way home.

And today, well, the picture just does not do it justice! Trust me, the blueberry pancakes were fantastic!

SHATTER

 

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SHATTER the light, the expectations.

BREAK up the view, the stillness.

ERODE the object, the function.

And never stop playing.

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Photographs:

Reflection and light broken up on a phone

Painted tarp on a chain link fence at a construction site

An “oops” taken out the window of a moving car

Reflections on a glass table

Rust on an abandoned car

Chair on a sidewalk

GREEN: the Long and Short of It

 

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A ravine outside of Seattle, Washington.

Photos taken a month apart. Bottom two taken with an Android phone, top one taken with a Lumix G3.

The time of day, time of year, general dryness and phone vs/camera all play a part in the very different color casts of the photos.

Also, a bit of fiddling in Lightroom.

SUMMER GARDEN NOSTALGIA

Summer afternoons can evoke a certain dreamy nostalgia.

I was feeling it recently, and remembering a public garden I used to haunt. Snug Harbor Botanical Garden, in the New York City borough of Staten Island, is a somewhat forgotten place, being overshadowed by major institutions like the Brooklyn Botanical Garden and the New York Botanical Garden.

It’s a gem though.

Never crowded, it sits on the grounds of an old sailor’s home and contains a wide variety of gardens – a rose garden, perennial borders, fish ponds with tropical plants set around them in the summer, a greenhouse and wonderful old trees, an herb garden, a white garden enclosed by old trellis, a pleached hornbeam allee…and that’s not to mention the impressive Chinese Scholar’s Garden and an Italianate garden.

Here is a selection of images from a landscape I came to love, taken from 2008- 2011.

I’ll save the Chinese Scholar’s Garden, Italianate Gardens and glass house for another time…

 

 

So many photographs. And there are many more. I spent many hours with my camera at Snug Harbor.

For those who like naming things, here are some names:

1) A clematis in the White Garden

2) Can’t remember the name of this pretty white flower

3) Rose

4) One of the old homes on the grounds, now sometimes used for photo shoots

5) Hosta, Hakone grass and other foliage plants make one of many wonderful compositions in the perennial garden

6) Cotinus, or Smoke tree, with leaf shadows in late afternoon sunlight

7) Crinum asiaticum, a tropical spider lily grown each year and set in containers outside the greenhouse

8) Walkway after heavy rain, planted with annuals and tropicals

9) Praying mantis with Joe

10) Praying mantis with asters

11) Japanese anemone in the White Garden

12) Hakone grass

13) Hakone grass going to seed

14) Spider lily (Crinum asiaticum)

15) Brugmansia – also called Angel’s trumpets, they provide a spectacular display in large containers each summer.

16) Clematis gone to seed in the White Garden

17) Poppy pods!

18) Peonies after a storm

19) Peony

20) Water lily – Nymphaea sp.

21) Fall color in the garden

22) Brugmansias – how I love them!

23) Fallen petals

24) Late summer border composition – Smoke tree, Perovskia (Russian sage), Yarrow, Bergamot

25) The Rose Garden, early September

26) Clematis on the trellis

27) Grasses in fall

28) Fallen petals in spring

29) The peached allee of hornbeam, a repsite on hot days

30) Quarter moon under a crooked tree

31) A resident Mallard pair

NITOBE MEMORIAL GARDEN

On the campus of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, is the Nitobe Memorial Garden, considered by some to be one of the most authentic Japanese gardens outside Japan.  The garden is named in honor of Nitobe Inazo, a Japanese educator and diplomat (author of “Bushido: The Soul of Japan”) who worked to create bridges of international understanding and cooperation.

A quote attributed to Nitobe Inazo (from Wikipedia):  “If there is anything to do, there is certainly a best way to do it, and the best way is both the most economical and the most graceful.”

The garden, gracefully set on an economical 2.5 acres, was designed over 50 years ago by Professor Kannosuke Mori of Japan, who also oversaw construction. The mix of northwest and east Asian native plants easily harmonizes throughout the landscape; Pacific north west native sword ferns, Oregon grape and mosses intermingle with Japanese maples, cherries and iris. A traditional Tea House was constructed in Japan, taken apart, and rebuilt by Japanese craftsman on site. Careful attention was paid to symbolism and the placement of rocks at strategic points around the garden – a turtle-shaped  island represents longevity and a particular lantern is lit by the sun each year on the day Nitobe died.  Goldfish and carp were brought in from Japan, too, but birds dined on the goldfish. The carp survived though, and I caught only a brief a glimpse of them – big, lumbering shapes swimming in a pack near the lake’s edge.

I arrived between rain showers on an overcast day that lent softness to a landscape where the traditional features of a Japanese garden are set under a towering canopy of fir and cedar, native trees retained from the forest already on the site.

 

 

The character below is actually from a Chinese calligraphic scroll inside the university’s Asian Centre, just across from the Nitobe Memorial Garden. The scroll is a poem, “Gazing at Taishen”, by Chinese poet Tu Fu.

The stunning calligraphy, which caught me up short, is by Fan Zeng, a brilliant painter, calligrapher and poet. The poem’s first lines read:

“How is one to describe this king of mountains?

Throughout the whole of Chi and Lu, one never loses sight of its greenness.

In it, the creator has concentrated all that is numinous and beautiful…”

It was a fitting prelude to a stroll through the garden – as if I’d been transported far west, beyond Japan, into the heart of the oriental soul, to soak in its essence. From there I would make the small hop across the waters from China to Japan, immersing myself in a living, breathing landscape – an embodiment of Japanese culture.

 

 

 

Restraint.

No riot of colorful flowers, but instead, a harmonious composition of elements that gently works its magic on your consciousness, drawing your attention to shape, form, texture, and all the lovely details you might miss in a more riotous garden design.

 

 

Traditional stone lanterns, some very old, were brought from Japan, as well as an old Chinese stone pagoda sculpture, above. The tall Nitobe lantern, below, includes oriental zodiac symbols – you can see the horse, sheep, monkey and rooster here. This is the lantern that reportedly lights up when the sun hits it at 4 PM on the day Nitobe died, but I wonder about clouds and trees getting in the way. You can see the size of this latern in the 4th image above – it’s behind two trees to the left of the path.

 

 

The garden is meant to be appreciated slowly;

vistas open up and disappear as you trace winding paths, round corners, ascend gentle bridges and pause to reflect, as this man did.

 

Bamboo poles and with graceful hoop stays serve as gentle reminders to keep to the paths.

 

The Tea House was closed but a seat outside the building afforded a resting place.

More bamboo, artfully tied together with weathered rope, enclosed the seating area. All very wabi-sabi!

 

The Asian Centre next door includes elements of Japanese architecture that complement the Nitobe Memorial Garden.

 

“I am in Japan,” the Crown Prince (now Emperor) of Japan is said to have remarked as he toured the garden.

No doubt the Nitobe is an authentic Japanese tea and stroll garden. For me, a more fitting description of this graceful landscape might be that it nestles one Pacific Ocean coastal culture into the landscape of another, with nary a leaf or symbol  – or soul, out of place.

Above, delicate branches of Japanese maple waft across a sturdy old northwestern Douglas fir.

 

Over the Border

I just returned from a brief trip across the border into Canada. We stayed in Vancouver, and explored in and around the city.

I wandered through the Museum of Anthropology UBC (University of British Columbia), the extensive UBC Botanical Gardens, and the Nitobe Memorial Garden, a fine traditional Japanese garden.  We spent a delightful afternoon watching ferries take passengers to Vancouver Island from Horseshoe Bay and clambering over the rocks Whtyecliff Park, for a beautiful view of the sound.  Yesterday I drove up the scenic Sea to Sky Highway towards Whistler, stopping at Shannon Falls and the little town of Squamish.  And the Airbnb where we stayed was right across the street from Sunset beach in downtown Vancouver, where the annual Celebration of Light fireworks provided a fabulous finale to the trip.

Needless to say, there are loads of photos and they’ll take time to get through. Here are just a few:

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British Columbia license plates say “Beautiful British Columbia” on them. So true, and we only scratched the surface. I can’t wait to go back!

 

1) A totem at the Museum of Anthropology, UBC

2) A traditional bell tower outside the Nitobe Memorial Garden on the UBC campus

3) Downtown Vancouver, shot from the car with my phone

4) Shannon Falls, on the Sea to Sky Highway outside Vancouver

5) The Horseshoe Bay marina

6) Howe Sound and Vancouver Island from the side of road on the Sea to Sky Highway

7) A lifeguard boat at Sunset Beach in Vancouver (yes, palm trees in Canada!)

The header (top photo above the title) is Whytecliff Park, northwest of Vancouver.

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